Traveling alone is all about... you.
Photographed by Shanna Wolf
A few days before I turned 30 I boarded a plane in Chicago by myself and woke up in Paris, excited to break crusty baguettes in half, stuff my face with fromage and speak nothing but French. It was late March. It rained every day. I didn’t really care. It was my first international trip. I was an ocean away from home and truly in my element, asking strangers in French for the time (once, someone even asked me) and sipping café noir at spots where famous writers and philosophers once did.
In the small village of Auvers-sur-Oise, once home to Vincent van Gogh, I slogged through muddy wheat fields and walked up the steps of a local church, both of which inspired his paintings. Back in Paris, I walked through the rain for hours each day, ducking in and out of the Louvre and Musée Picasso, shops, boutiques and farmers markets, my curiosity just as piqued by the Mona Lisa as by a row of shiny espresso machines in a department store.
Luxury was stripped from that trip, leaving me to bunk in a hostel with other solo travelers, pick up sandwiches from cafes and carts and browse the pastry cases at the local boulangerie in lieu of a sit-down meal. And yet each morning I awoke with a smile, eager to start an unstructured day. I loved every impromptu conversation and spontaneous decision I made in the City of Lights. Because I was traveling solo, I could do and see whatever I wanted.
Fast forward 10 years and I’m an enviable travel writer, living “la vie” while racking up frequent-flier miles and jetting off to sun dappled islands, hanging with winemakers in Bordeaux and checking into hotels with nightly room rates that rival my monthly mortgage. The only problem is that freedom doesn’t come on those scripted trips because, somewhere along the way, wanderlust came to a screeching halt. Armed with a notebook and a camera, my lens to soak up the world is now my readers’ needs—not my own heart.
Slowly I’m crawling my way back to freedom in travel. Recently, I boarded a plane with a Wisconsin friend back to her Hawaii hometown. After three days joined at the hip, I nervously asked to part for the afternoon. Two hours later, I was zipping around the North Shore alone in a Ford Mustang convertible, stopping for rainbow-hued cones of shaved ice and picking through hippie art galleries.
Today, I need only look at that print I bought in Haleiwa—of a woman clutching her surfboard at the shoreline and gazing out at the curling waves—to remind me what my soul craves. Even when I’m traveling with others, I need time alone, to explore, to feel, to simply be without the sound of another person or someone else’s agenda. Solo travel’s siren song frees us from the confines of home: There is no schedule, no responsibility, no need to keep time. The world is your oyster, as Shakespeare once wrote. And, to me, that’s freedom.